Interview with Nicolai from Commerce Restaurant in West Village
Living your life with a touch of Je ne sais quoi, as the French would say, is rather special. Meaning, I don’t know what. I don’t know what it is but something makes this special. Who doesn’t love the European laid back way to life?
Please meet, the West Village and how to live as the Europeans do, but here.
New York City, Manhattan in general is an incredible place to live. Visitors get a glimpse but living here brings a whole new meaning. Where you live, whichever fabulous district you choose, says something about you. Upper West side, Gramercy… West Village. Bringing the phrase back, I don’t know what it is but there is something so impressive and special about the West Village. Allow me to explain further. What is worth having to you? Love. Tradition brings memories, memories bring happiness to the heart. Love. When you move into the West Village it is as if you were let in on a secret. A secret you do not want to share. Let’s zoom in on a typical west village local, a thirtysomething man, with growing success, a well rounded group of friends all with the laid back, intelligent yet very fun and respectful attitude(don’t forget stylish). He lives in the eye catching two building (merged in the 60’s) red bricked building. The building that originally started as a warehouse for cigarettes in the 1930’s and is now filled with tradition and history. Old and new tenants. Fashionable and with his citibike pass, he leaves his chic home to meet his friends for the playoff soccer game everyone has been waiting for!
After the most suspenseful win of the year, the group decides to celebrate with a tasty, elegant and swanky dinner at their local spot, Commerce. On the hidden crooked street of Commerce, sits one of the oldest restaurants in the West Village. Once a Grange Hall, then a speakeasy and even a filming location for Sex and the City the series and movie – which makes sense as it is a glitzy, glamourous but cool establishment. The men walk in and immediately see their friend, the manager, who gives them the best seat in the place and an appetizer to start. These men are in the know of the who, what, when, most importantly where and why. They live and work for what is worth having to them.
Let us sit with the manager of Commerce, Nicolai Fratzke. Grew up in Germany, then living in upstate New York – back to Germany then making way back to New York City, Manhattan to be exact. Four years ago Nicolai moved into the West Village and quickly becoming a local he learned several tips and stories that he is happy to share with us. In 2008 Commerce Restaurant opened, however lets start from the beginning. The building built in 1911, what began as the Blue Mill Tavern and held its own for 50 years was a local favorite through some of the hardest times in history. Why named Blue Mill? Your first thought might be since the village area was all farmland in the 1700’s, nope.
Legend has it, that the new buyer upon purchasing the spot wanted to keep the ash trays, labeled Blue Mill, that came with the watering hole. So, the ash trays became his and the new bar was named! Making sure the ash trays did not look out of place of course. During this time, subway tiles decorated the walls, which some of the original lighter tiles (mixed with darker new tiles), are still visible today. On the front windowsills, the bottom labeled “Blue Mill” and where the bar is today, was once the secret entrance for the “password only” speakeasy.
Turning over to the newer local favorite, Grange Hall, then back to the Blue Mill before closing once more, and finally today – Commerce. Named after its street and actually one of the very few West Village streets to keep its original name. The story behind the lovely oil paintings? Only one family feud. Across the way, at number 39 and 41 to be exact, lived a “wealthy sea merchant and his twin daughters”, told by a maitre-de on the Commerce history. The loving father built these two houses, locally known as the Two Sisters, for his girls with a beautiful garden connecting the two in hopes of a reconciliation. Did it work or cause a bigger wall between the sisters? Well, we do not know as apparently this is a myth – but that doesn’t matter as the story grabbed the imaginations of many and the myth stuck! In our video, Nicolai shares another fun story about about random people who use to frequent the speakeasy and what the password was to enter.
Hopefully you will have a chance to become part of this history, learn the local stories through friendly conversation with the locals while making new friends. And in the end, have the true experience worth having.